Teaching and Learning

The Why is the Key to the What and the How

He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.

Friedrich Nietzsche

I have been thinking about teachers a lot lately. Many of you are working on revising, rewriting, or simply writing curriculum and lesson plans that ares responsive to the different teaching you’ll be doing as a response to COVID. I know how daunting the task can be, especially when there are so many unknown variables. When I started teaching, I was always told to focus on my circle of control and understand that I can’t always impact the areas of concern.

But now, it seems like those areas have gotten all scrambled together. All the circles are intertwined as we venture into distance learning, many for the first time. Before COVID, I couldn’t control what happened at home, so I didn’t assign homework and chose to focus the learning within the classroom structure. But now, all the students are at home so does that change the circle of concern to a circle of control?

I recently rewrote a doctorate course for University of San Diego called Learning Design and Technology (which I am now teaching). When I accepted the contract, I assumed the students would all be teachers wanting to branch out with online and blended learning, which is who I taught this course to in the past.

But that was pre-COVID.

When COVID hit, I adjusted the course to reflect the new reality for teachers. But when students started joining the course, I realized I had to make even more adjustments because my students weren’t traditional teachers. One was from the Department of Defense who was asked to put some aviation material online. One was a photojournalist looking to inspire social justice through photography. And one was a USD employee trying to find ways to encourage students to study abroad (even though the program is currently COVID suspended).

Revising the course was difficult, of course. But it wasn’t impossible because I had a firm grasp of the “why” for the course.

“In today’s digitally connected global environment, it is important to be able to design and provide learning in ways that people can engage with, understand, and implement.”

Course “Why”

Making adjustments when the “why” was clear made the “how” and the “what” less daunting. And yet oddly, it’s something most teachers are never asked to consider. I look back at my teacher training and I see a lot of coursework on “how” and “what” but the only “why” seemed to be standards or high-stakes testing. (And by the way, neither of those are a why, but you already know that!)

So where did the why come from? From empathy. From looking at past courses and talking to former students to see what experiences resonated with students. It came from talking to my current students to understand their reality. It came from reading articles published by the World Economic Forum to look at future forecasts, and from listening to my peers on Twitter share their current reality and fears with each other. Is it perfect? Nope. But it is a guide. And that guide informs my course corrections.

So as you continue wrestling with the how and what, please remember that changes will most definitely continue to come your way. But if you take time to identify the why, and then ground yourself in it, those changes won’t be quite as soul-crushing as they may seem right now. In fact, they may lead to some amazing opportunities to engage and enrich students in ways you had not before considered.

You got this!

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